THE ‘ESSEX & SUFFOLK FIRE OFFICE’ WAR MEMORIAL

The ‘Essex and Suffolk’ War Memorial: a photographic plate from 'The Fire Office' being the history of The Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited 1802 - 1952" by Bernard Drew. Printed by Curwen Press, Plaistow, London. 1952.

The ‘Essex and Suffolk’ War Memorial: a photographic plate from ‘The Fire Office’
being the history of The Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited 1802 – 1952″
by Bernard Drew. Printed by Curwen Press, Plaistow, London. 1952.

The ‘Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited’ had its “official” headquarters in the ‘Essex & Suffolk Fire Office’ building, which still stands at the western end (“top”) of the High Street in Colchester, Essex.  This is where the memorial structure was installed.

The “double doorway” memorial of the ‘Essex and Suffolk’ (as the Society was, and still is, familiarly referred to) was installed within the General Office of the ‘Fire Office’, on the ground floor – it was unveiled and dedicated on 15 November 1923.  It bore the names of ten Society employees who “fell” during the First World War.

More information, about the important part the ‘Essex and Suffolk’ played during the First World War in supporting the town of Colchester, was gleaned from the aforementioned book and can be found within this chapter of my Great War Home Hospitals (within 20 miles of Colchester only) site: https://greatwarhomehospitals.wordpress.com/home/colchester-st-martins-house-and-the-public-hall/

First World War references to the ‘Essex and Suffolk’ War Memorial, from ‘The Fire Office’ being the history of The Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited 1802 – 1952″ by Bernard Drew:

Pages 107-108 [sic]:

“…  By the end of the year 1915 it was stated that at the outbreak of the War there were seventy-three men of military age in the Society’s employment; of these thirty-six were serving, six had been rejected and the remaining thirty one had applied to be allowed to volunteer under the terms of the Board’s decision already mentioned.  Permission was granted, except in the case of those men who were deemed indispensable to the efficient conduct of the Society’s business.  It may here be appropriately remembered that ten members of the Staff made the supreme sacrifice for their King and Country, in honour of whom a memorial in the General Office at Colchester was unveiled by the Deputy Chairman, Mr. C. W. Parker, on 15 November 1923.  The names of those to whom the memorial was dedicated are as follows:

D. Cole; W. F. Finnis; L. A. Frost; S. F. Hale; W. H. Heap; A. Humby; T. Mason; W. T. Walsham; C. M. White; S. R. Worger …”

On 3 May 1918, the Chelmsford Chronicle printed this [sic]:

“THE ESSEX AND SUFFOLK. The 115th annual Court of the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Ltd., was held in Colchester on Saturday.  Mr. S. J. Pipkin presiding:– … … The directors regretted the deaths of the following former members of the staff while on active service:  Lts. W. F. Finnis and W. Heap, Serg. W. T. Walsham, Corpl. T. Mason, Pts. D. Cole, L. A. Frost, Humby, C. M. White, and S. R. Worger.—The Chairman, moving the adoption of the report and bonuses, said 72 of their staff had joined H. M. Forces: every member of military age had volunteered. It was lamentable that nine of them had been either killed in action or had died of wounds or disease. …”

No image of this original Dedication Tablet has been discovered.

Second World War references to the ‘Essex and Suffolk’ War Memorial, from ‘The Fire Office’ being the history of The Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited 1802 – 1952″ by B. Drew:

Pages 115/116 [sic]:

“…  It will be appreciated that, just as happened in the 1914-18 War, the claims of the Services bore ever more and more heavily on the staff of the Essex and Suffolk.  At the Annual General Court of 28 May 1942, Mr. Fallon reported that nearly fifty per cent of the pre-war male staff of all ages together with an ever-increasing percentage of permanent female staff were serving with His Majesty’s Forces, and the burden thrown upon those who remained, and the temporary staff which had to be engaged, grew daily.  A year later Mr. Fallon said: ‘We have only thirty-five per cent of our pre-war male staff left and over twenty per cent of our pre-war female staff have left us temporarily for one or another form of War Service.’  Finally (to anticipate matters slightly), on the conclusion of the War in Europe in May 1945, Mr. Fallon announced that of the pre-war permanent staff sixty-eight men—twenty-eight of whom held commissioned rank—and eight women were serving in His Majesty’s Forces or were engaged on work of national importance.  One member of the staff gained the Distinguished Service Cross and was also mentioned in despatches; another was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and six men, all of whom were in the Royal Air Force, made the supreme sacrifice.  They were H. Bennett; S. D. Hill; E. W. Paine; J. D. Sargeant; J. R. Thompson and A. L. T. Todd, and these names have now been added to the War Memorial at The Fire Office at Colchester. …” 

When the Second World War was over, on a date unknown but before 1952, the original “dedication tablet” was removed – in order for a new tablet to be fitted.  This new, second tablet was carved to include the names of the aforementioned six Company employees who had “fallen” during that Second World War.  It stood to honour the sixteen ‘Essex and Suffolk’ employees who had made the “supreme sacrifice”.  

The Fire Office building was Grade II Listed in 1950 and, as such, the fixture of the “massive doorway” memorial would have been similarly classified.

The ‘Essex & Suffolk’ “dedication tablet”.

The ‘Essex & Suffolk’ “dedication tablet”.

The following text  is reproduced from the Imperial War Museum’s ‘War Memorial’s Register’.  It is a listing that only refers to the original installation.  It omits “1923”.   ©IWM (WMR-22327)  http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/22327

Essex And Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Ltd

WM reference:   22327

Memorial type:   Other memorial

Lost:   No

Town:   Colchester

County:   Essex

District:   Colchester

Subject/Period:   First World War (1914-1918)

Creator:   MESSRS W CHAMBERS AND SON (Builder); MESSRS GREGORY AND SAUNDERS; ARIBA  (Architect); MESSRS SAMUEL ELLIOTT AND SONS (READING) LTD (Builder)

Ceremony Unveiled:   15th November  

Dedicated:   15th November

Current location:   CURRENT LOCATION UNKNOWN

ESSEX AND SUFFOLK EQUITABLE INSURANCE
High St
Colchester
Essex
England

OS Grid Ref.:   TL 990 250

Denomination:   Undefined

Description:   MASSIVE OAK DOUBLE DOORWAY WITH ARABESQUE PANEL IN THE CENTRE AND CROWNED WITH A DEDICATION TABLET

Inscription:   LEFT SIDE: (NAMES) CENTRE: TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE / WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES / IN THE GREAT WAR 1914 – 1919 / RIGHT SIDE: (NAMES)

Inscription legible?   Yes

Names on memorial:

COLE, D.
FINNIS, W. F.
FROST, L. A.
HALE, S. F.
HEAP, W. H.
HUMBY, T.
MASON, T.
WALSHAM, W. T.
WHITE, C. M.
WORGER, S. R.

Subject/Period:   First World War (1914-1918); Total names on memorial: 10; Served and returned: Undefined; Died: 10; Exact count: no; Information shown: surname; Order of information: surname

Component:   Memorial; Condition: Unknown; Measurements: Undefined; Materials: Wood – Oak; Listed?: No

Ceremony:   Unveiled Date: 15th November; Attended by: UNKNOWN

Ceremony:   Dedicated Date: 15th November; Attended by: UNKNOWN

Costs:   Site: Unknown or N/A; Memorial: Unknown or N/A; Comments: None

Trust fund/Scholarship:   No; Purpose: Unknown or N/A

Sponsorship:   Unknown or N/A; Details: Unknown or N/A

Responsibility of:   Unknown or N/A

This record comprises all information held by IWM’s War Memorials Register for this memorial.  Where we hold a names list for the memorial, this information will be displayed on the memorial record.”

THE CASE OF THE MISSING DEDICATION TABLET

by Heather Anne Johnson (Site Administrator)

Whilst answering an appeal for information about Sydney Claridge Turner (the General Manager of the ‘Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Ltd’ during the First World War: printed in the Essex County Standard on 24 February 2017)  my husband and I discovered the existence of a ‘Essex & Suffolk Fire Office’ War Memorial.

The book ‘The Fire Office’ being the history of The Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Ltd 1802 – 1952″ by Bernard Drew (printed by Curwen Press, Plaistow, London. 1952) had proved to be an invaluable source of information, in helping provide information appealed for, but it was also this book that alerted us to the War Memorial.

Having an interest in the ‘Essex and Suffolk’, because a late relative worked there, it became our quest to see this Memorial.   However, the question was immediately asked “how could we achieve this?” because the building housed apartments now and had a secure entrance.

Luck was on our side, in the guise of Connells Estate Agents (situated opposite the Fire Office, in the Colchester High Street).  The Agents had an apartment for let in the ‘Fire Office’ and a very kind gentleman there answered my “bizarre” email to the office, which described our predicament.  A rendezvous was arranged for 24 April 2017 and the gentleman escorted my husband and I inside, to view the “double doorway” memorial.

The structure now stands in a communal corridor on an upper floor (fixed to a back wall), so there was no conflict of interest for the Agent.  Elation on approaching the memorial was short-lived because it was soon realised that the important “Dedication Tablet” was missing – having been replaced with a mirror panel of the same size.

Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited’s War Memorial, minus Dedication Tablet. ‘Fire Office’. High Street, Colchester, Essex. 24 April 2017. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Essex & Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Ltd’s War Memorial, minus Dedication Tablet.
‘Fire Office’. High Street, Colchester, Essex. 24 April 2017.
Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Subsequently, another quest began – to discover what had happened to this “dedication tablet” and I set about investigating its disappearance and possible whereabouts.

The question was asked: “who had removed the Dedication Tablet, and when?”  Two companies had been involved in major works at the ‘Fire Office’ in 2010 and, I have to admit, suspicion did fall upon them.   However, after communicating with both parties, this suspicion proved totally unfounded but the whereabouts of the “Dedication Tablet” still remained a mystery.

After this initial detective work proved unsuccessful, I asked Lauren Oldershaw (of the Essex County Standard) if an appeal could be published for me – in an attempt to ascertain whether any readers knew anything about the “Dedication Tablet”.  An appeal was published on 2 June 2017 and, as a result, local man Dick Barton came forward – explaining that he had had it for many years.

Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited’s War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet. September 2017. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited’s War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet.
September 2017. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

From its local origins, the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited had been acquired and merged with national companies over time.  These changes had, ultimately, impacted on why and how the ‘Essex and Suffolk’ War Memorial lost its “Dedication Tablet” in the first place.

In 1911, the Society merged with the ‘Atlas Assurance Company’ and, in 1959, the group that was ‘Atlas Assurance Company’ and ‘Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society’ was acquired by ‘Royal Exchange Assurance’.

In 1968, ‘Royal Exchange Assurance’ re-located from London – to brand-new offices in Civic Drive, Ipswich. Also in 1968, ‘Royal Exchange Assurance’ merged with Guardian Assurance to form ‘Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance’ (G.R.E.).  A new extension to the Civic Drive office block was built in 1969, to accommodate the expansion – designed by local firm Johns, Slater Haward.

To bring the configuration of the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited up to date, the ‘Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance’ was taken over by the French insurance giant AXA in 1999. AXA still has offices in Ipswich’s Civic Drive today.

Knowing all the aforementioned twists and turns of company changes, it is not difficult to imagine how the poignancy of the ‘Essex and Suffolk’ War Memorial Dedication Tablet became lost – because companies, with no connection to it at all, found themselves possessing it.

It is deduced that the ‘Essex and Suffolk Fire Office’ War Memorial was removed from its original position in the ground floor General Office during the G.R.E. era c1968, and installed on an upper floor.   Perhaps, at the same time, the “Dedication Tablet” was removed from the War Memorial framework and placed in the G.R.E.’s archives – a mirror replacing the void it left behind.

After the old first floor G.R.E. offices in the ‘Fire Office’ were vacated, they were available to be used as a venue for various local purposes.   During the term of Colchester Mayor Terry Sutton (2006/7), one such occasion was a meeting that Dick Barton was invited to attend, as Chairman of the Colchester Town Guides’ Assoc.   All present noticed that the War Memorial frame was there to be seen but its “Tablet” was conspicuous by its absence.   The people present discussed its disappearance and Dick Barton left the meeting with a quest on his hands – to try and locate it.

Dick Barton described to me how he came to unearth the whereabouts of the “Dedication Tablet” and how he had been keeping it safe.  Dick’s efforts had taken him to the Guardian Royal Exchange and, with the help of a willing company employee, the Tablet was discovered among company archives – in a warehouse in Sussex.   The Tablet was retrieved from the warehouse and the employee (who happened to live near Colchester) delivered it direct to Dick Barton.  Dick Barton tried to find a good home for it but, after making strenuous efforts, no organisation or institution was willing to adopt it.

This was how Mr. Dick Barton came to be the custodian of the Essex and Suffolk Fire Office’s WW1 and WW2 “Dedication Tablet” for a period of many years.

Discovering the “Dedication Tablet” has answered the question of whether the First World War Tablet of 1923 was discarded in favour of a completely new one, which encompassed the fallen employees of both wars.   In reality, the First World War Tablet was adapted:– the central panel of the Tablet was cut out; turned around; and a new carving carried out, holding a revised “TO THE MEMORY OF …” phrase and the six names of  the employees who died during the Second World War.  The oak ‘Dedication Tablet’ measures 6½’ long x 14” high.

Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited’s War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet. Views: Front and Back. September 2017. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited’s War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet.
Views: Front and Back. September 2017. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

In June 2017, I began emailing AXA UK plc – initially, to substantiate an ownership-timeline – but that came to nothing.   In October 2017, I resumed emailing AXA – with regard to asking the company if it felt it could relinquish ownership of the “Dedication Tablet”.  Relinquishing ownership had to happen before any Council, museum, etc would consider giving it a new home.   Again, that session of contacts came to nothing.

In February 2018, I began emailing AXA UK plc again.  Eventually, in March, I was fortunate enough to be passed to the Senior Counsel at AXA UK plc.  She proved to be the positive and invaluable contact that I had wished for from the beginning – as a result, AXA UK plc relinquished any ownership rights to the “Dedication Tablet”, in a letter dated 8 May 2018.

The quest began to find the Dedication Tablet a new home in Colchester.  To cut a long story short, with the valuable help of Colchester Councillor Lyn Barton (Councillor for Shrub End Ward and Vice-Chairman of Colchester’s Heritage Committee), Mayor Peter Chillingworth committed to give the Tablet a place in Colchester’s Town Hall.

Negotiations between Mr. Paul Lind (Hallkeeping Manager/Town Serjeant) and myself culminated in Colchester Town Hall taking possession of the Dedication Tablet.  On 5 December 2018, Mayor Chillingworth unveiled the Tablet, on the first floor corridor of the Town Hall.  In 2019, the Tablet will receive much-needed renovation.

The final up-date in the ‘Case of the Missing Dedication Tablet’ will be posted after the Tablet has been renovated in 2019.  The Imperial War Museum has been notified of the new location etc. and, in due course, its War Memorials Register will be updated.

Colchester Mayor Peter Chillingworth unveiling the Dedication Tablet. 5 December 2018. Courtesy/© Heather Anne Johnson.

Colchester Mayor Peter Chillingworth unveiling the Dedication Tablet.
5 December 2018. Courtesy/© Heather Anne Johnson.

The “Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet unveiled. L to r: Councillor Lyn Barton; Heather Johnson; Mayor Peter Chillingworth; and Dick Barton. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

The “Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet unveiled.
L to r: Councillor Lyn Barton; Heather Johnson; Mayor Peter Chillingworth; Dick Barton.
Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

The “Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet. Colchester Town Hall. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

The “Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet.
Colchester Town Hall. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

THE FULFILLED QUEST

The final up-date in the ‘Case of the Missing Dedication Tablet’ can now be posted: it gives me great pleasure, and pride, to announce that the ‘Essex and Suffolk’ Fire Office Dedication Tablet has been restored and further enhanced by a new oak frame.  On the 4th April 2019, the Dedication Tablet was permanently installed on the first floor of Colchester’s Town Hall.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet. Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet.
Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office’s Dedication Tablet: Left Hand Side. Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office’s Dedication Tablet: Left Hand Side.
Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office’s Dedication Tablet: Centre. Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office’s Dedication Tablet: Centre.
Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office’s Dedication Tablet: Right Hand Side. Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

“Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office’s Dedication Tablet: Right Hand Side.
Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Restored “Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet. Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Restored “Essex and Suffolk” Fire Office War Memorial’s Dedication Tablet.
Colchester Town Hall, Essex. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

The Town Hall, High Street, Colchester, Essex.   Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

The Town Hall, High Street, Colchester, Essex.
Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

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NEXT:  NAMES ON ‘ESSEX AND SUFFOLK’ DEDICATION TABLET